Monthly Archives: June 2013

2013 Virginia 4-H State Congress

This month I had the pleasure of attending Virginia 4-H State Congress! This is an event put on by the state 4-H office down at Virginia Tech. Congress was held June 17-20 on the Virginia Tech Campus in Blacksburg, VA. Participants are 4-H members aged 14-19. They get to stay in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria, and take workshops in actual college classrooms! This year’s theme was ” The Path to Success, Luck Has Nothing to Do with It.”

Congress is a phenomenal opportunity for teens to get to experience a taste of “college life” while participating in 4-H structured programming and meeting other teens from all across the state! This year congress had several different workshop and learning opportunities.

The first evening of Congress, there was an opening ceremony where the participants were welcomed. During this opening ceremony, Miss Virginia 2012, Rosemary Willis, delivered an amazing keynote address about her participation in pageants, healthy living, and overcoming difficulties.


The next few days consisted of various workshops for the teens to attend. Tuesday morning consisted of “competition workshops” which helped better prepare 4-H members for state-wide 4-H competitions, such as food challenge, forestry judging, shooting sports, and even some livestock competitions such as horse bowl. During this time, some state level competitions were being held, including share the fun  which is the 4-H talent show, public speaking and presentations, photography, and fashion review. I chaperoned the cattle handling competition workshop. In the cattle handling competition, the youth participants must know how to administer preventative medicine to cattle, read a medication label to administer the proper dosage, and move the cattle from one location to another. This was a very interesting and informative workshop led by Dr. Whittier of Virginia Tech.


Tuesday afternoon was the Great Summer Series workshops which introduced the teens to a wide variety of topics in which they could explore. These workshops ranged in topics including basic first aid, all about alpacas, DNA extraction, stop-motion animation, large animal veterinary medicine, leadership, and dairy science! These workshops gave teens a taste of what it is like to study in these fields and introduced them to some activities they may encounter along the way.


Tuesday night was capped off with a carnival held in War Memorial Gym! A fun time was had all around. There were tons of different games to play; giant Jenga, Character Counts! Twister, mini golf, and the just dance video game was up and running for everyone to try! The Hokie Bird even made a special appearance at the carnival.


Wednesday morning was the college fair and career workshops. There were different workshops put on by the colleges within Virginia Tech, such as the College of Veterinary Medicine, Pamplin College of Business, College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences, and the College of Engineering. Each college presented different opportunities available to the students. I was lucky enough to be able to chaperone the teens over to the vet school. While we were there, we got a tour of the facilities, a presentation from a current student on what it took for him to get in, and even met some of the dogs they had available for adoption.


Wednesday afternoon included the banquet in which awards were presented to Extension Agents for programming grants, and the teens chosen to represent Virginia at National 4-H Congress were announced. After the banquet everyone was treated to the share the fun show, where the state winners showed off their talents. Everyone was fantastic and showed off some amazing skills! The acts included dancers, singers, piano players, and even a magician!


Sadly things came to a close on Thursday, but not after an awesome night of dancing and recreation time. The dance went for several hours, during which time the new state 4-H officers were announced. For anyone not in the dancing mood, there was bowling, billiards, and other games available to play.


Congress is an amazing event, and anyone who goes will grow tremendously in so many different ways. The 2014 Virginia 4-H State Congress will take place June 16-19, 2014 in Blacksburg, VA on the campus of Virginia Tech. If you or your teen are interested, do not hesitate to contact myself or Reggie about attending! We would LOVE to take some delegates from Alexandria and Arlington to this spectacular event.


Also, if you want to see some more pictures from this year’s congress, check them out on instagram! Follow username “Arlington4h” or go to:

Both Arlington 4-H and Alexandria 4-H are also on twitter! Make sure you follow @Arlington4h and @Alexandria_4H

New Alexandria 4-H Agent

Hi EVERYBODY! My name is Reginald (Reggie) Morris and I am extremely honored and excited to be the new 4-H agent for the City of Alexandria. I’m not new to Extension or the 4-H program; I previously served as 4-H Agent in Henrico County, Virginia since the fall of 2009. I’m a product of the benefits of 4-H, and truly believe in all the great qualities 4-H instills in young throughout the world. I am ready to reintroduce the wonderful learning opportunities of 4-H to the citizens of Alexandria and I’m looking forward to establishing a quality youth development program that will be active and thriving for years to me. I am a Gloucester, Virginia native where I participated in the 4-H program on various levels and continue to serve as an adult volunteer whenever I get the change to return home.  I graduated from Hampton University in 2008 with a B.S. in Business Management and recently completed the Master’s Degree program in Career and Technical Education at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2013.  I would like to thank everyone who’s welcomed me with open arms, and I look forward to continuing the 4-H spirit by making “the best even better!” If you have any questions or just want to chat about programming or volunteer opportunities please don’t hesitate to give me a call.



Arlington Energy Masters celebrate award-winning year

On Wednesday members of the 2012-13 cohort of Arlington Energy Masters volunteers and members from the inaugural class in 2011 gathered to celebrate their accomplishments of the past year. These dedicated volunteers worked together to conduct energy and water-saving retrofits in 157 low-income apartments, surpassing the 100 units that received these services in the first year of the program. Volunteers received graduation certificates to acknowledge the 60 hours required of current year volunteers and 20 hours required of returning Energy Masters.

Created by VCE, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, and Arlington Thrive, the Arlington Energy Masters program was recognized with two accolades this year: a Green Giant award from Washingtonian Magazine and a state award from Virginia Cooperative Extension for excellence in new initiatives. The latter comes with a cash prize that the partners will use to purchase more energy saving supplies as the program enters its third year.

The goals of the program are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help low-income residents cut their utility bills. The next training for new volunteers begins on Sept. 26. If you are interested in becoming an Energy Master please fill out the on-line

Recognizing the 2013 Arlington Energy Master volunteers

Recognizing the 2013 Arlington Energy Master volunteers

application that you can find here:


Master Food Volunteers Encourage AFAC Clients to Choose Low-fat Dairy Products

Chocolate banana ice cream may not sound like a healthy treat, but when made with non-fat vanilla yogurt, unsweetened cocoa powder, bananas and just a little bit of honey it can be a great alternative to full-fat, high sugar choices. Clients at the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) got to enjoy this cool snack at the main AFAC food distribution site today and also received information on how to make healthy dairy choices. Master Food Volunteer Catrina Moran joined an AFAC volunteer to make the recipe, distribute samples, and give out fact sheets on how to incorporate low-fat and non-fat dairy products into a healthy diet.

June marks the sixth month that Master Food Volunteers have been providing quick nutrition education at AFAC sites while clients wait to pick up their food. In addition to AFAC headquarters they also go to other food distribution sites including Gunston Community Center, Claridge House, and Clarendon United Methodist Church. The nutrition theme changes each month and so far we have covered topics such as portion control, heart health, limiting sugar consumption, and smart shopping for fruits and vegetables. Earlier this month Master Food Volunteers Nancy Broff and Cristina Zabala made and distributed samples of yogurt-onion-dill dip at Claridge House and Clarendon UMC, respectively. On Saturday Aleks Damsz will be back at AFAC HQ to share the tasty chocolate banana ice cream.

If you have ideas for other nutrition topics that you think we should cover at AFAC in the coming months, please let us know by leaving a comment on this post.

Kendra Ambrose and Catrina Moran pass out healthy sweet treats at AFAC in Arlington

Kendra Ambrose and Catrina Moran pass out healthy sweet treats at AFAC in Arlington

Master Food Volunteers Educate Customers at Old Town Farmers Market

On Saturday Master Food Volunteers Kim Frey and Casandra Lawson, joined by dietetic intern Rachel Patterson, provided lots of great nutrition information and education to customers at the Old Town Farmers Market in Alexandria. They distributed recipe cards featuring lots of healthy ways to use the produce currently in season. They gave out wall calendars with different healthy recipes suggested for each month. The volunteers also set up the Rev Your Bev display that shows people the high sugar content of many popular beverages and helps encourage them to make better drink choices.

Volunteers shared information like these MyPlate flyers and recipe cards with market shoppers.

Volunteers shared information like these MyPlate flyers and recipe cards with market shoppers.

Response to the Master Food Volunteers and their resources was strong, with the volunteers talking to more than 65 market shoppers during the 2 ½ hours that they were at the market. The volunteers will be at the Old Town market at least one Saturday a month throughout the season, so if you frequent this market keep a lookout for them. Each month they’ll be distributing different recipes and conducting a variety of activities to get people excited about making healthy food choices.

For Healthy Families, Cooking Matters!

With all the pressures of raising young children and maintaining a household, it takes dedication to complete a 6-week cooking class. That’s just what parents across Arlington and Fairfax are doing, thanks in part to the support of Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Master Food Volunteers. Area courses are being lead by Jennifer Abel and Katie Strong, VCE Agents, and Ellen Mathis and Hareg Tecklu, VCE Family Nutrition Program Assistants.

Cooking Matters for Adults is a cooking and nutrition course designed to empower families at risk of hunger with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals. During each class, participants learn to make several recipes and receive a bag of groceries to make the recipes for their families. The well-designed curriculum includes student and instructor guides covering practical nutrition, food shopping and food safety along with 65 tasty, healthy and low-cost recipes. Many of the recipes used in our VCE Master Food Volunteers training program came from Cooking Matters.

Leading a program in Reston were two registered dietitians, Katie Strong, VCE Agent, and Yara Saad, Early Childhood Nutritionist with Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Head Start Program. They were supported by FCPS and VCE staff Jessica Forsty and Patricia Reyes along with Master Food Volunteers Michael Perel and Sue Gonzalez. Many thanks to Reston’s Southgate Community Center for providing an excellent kitchen and classroom for this program.

Participants receive certificates and Cooking Matters shopping bags at the final class on May 22.

Participants receive certificates and Cooking Matters shopping bags at the final class on May 22.

Instructors Katie Strong, Patricia Reyes, Jessica Forsty and Yara Saad discuss nutrition while demonstrating food preparation.

Instructors Katie Strong, Patricia Reyes, Jessica Forsty and Yara Saad discuss nutrition while demonstrating food preparation.

Participants help prepare hearty egg burritos.

Participants help prepare hearty egg burritos.

Fruit salad topped off with fresh mint is a class favorite.

Fruit salad topped off with fresh mint is a class favorite.

Using bags of black beans, Katie Strong demonstrates how quickly bacteria multiply when food is not kept at safe temperatures.

Using bags of black beans, Katie Strong demonstrates how quickly bacteria multiply when food is not kept at safe temperatures.

Jessica Forsty holds up a “blubber burger” filled with Crisco to illustrate the amount of unhealthy fat in one participant’s favorite fast food meal.

Jessica Forsty holds up a “blubber burger” filled with Crisco to illustrate the amount of unhealthy fat in one participant’s favorite fast food meal.

Cooking Matters for Adults teaches low-income adults (primarily adults with children) how to prepare and shop sensibly for healthy meals on a limited budget. Founded in 1993 by Share Our Strength and nationally sponsored by the ConAgra Foods® Foundation and Walmart, Cooking Matters now serves 17,000 families each year. To learn more about Cooking Matters, visit

–Sue Gonzalez, Master Food Volunteer








Women, it’s time to take charge of your finances!

Women, how prepared do you feel in making wise financial decisions?  According to the 2012-2013 Prudential Research Study on financial experience and behaviors among women, only 22% of women felt “very well prepared” to make wise financial decisions (compared to 37% of men).

images (1)Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of these women.  Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with Arlington Public Libraries, will be holding a five-week course called Money Talk: A Financial Course for Women, at Arlington Central Library, starting Wednesday, July 10.  This course will show you how to plan now for long-term financial security.  Lessons cover the following topics:

July 10: Financial Basics
July 17: Are You Covered? Insurance Basics
July 23: Investing Basics
July 31: Investing for Retirement
August 7: Planning for Future Life Events

One past participant raved “It was a great course! I learned so much that I would never have otherwise. It’s a course that I feel like should be a part of everyone’s required education.”  Since 2006, Money Talk participants have saved over a combined $300,000 for their future.

The course is free, but the optional accompanying textbook is $25.

So are you ready to arm yourself for your financial future?  Complete the registration form here:  and send to Jennifer Abel at, or call 703-228-6417 for more information.


Kids Marketplace has kids at Oakridge Elementary demanding more

KM Oakridge 2013 014 “Save money!”

This was the mantra exclaimed by 4th graders from Oakridge Elementary School today after completing the Kids Marketplace financial simulation.  Each student was assigned an occupation at random with a certain monthly income (it differed from student to student), and they were required to visit all 10 stations to spend their money on expenses, including housing, transportation, saving, animal care, fun, charitable contributions, groceries, clothing, personal care/medical insurance, and chance, where the unexpected can strike.  Approximately 60 students engaged in the event this morning.

Some of the feedback after the class was very thoughtful:
–          “You can’t always just buy the stuff you want”
–          “Get a house or car before fun”
–          “You can get poor really, really fast”
–          “The money you can spend is based on your income”
–          “Even if your friends are buying it, you should look at how much you spend”
–          “It helps to have a roommate when buying a house”

KM Oakridge 2013 013The students learned a lot about financial decision-making with a constrained income, but they also had a lot of fun.  (One girl asked that we “please pleeeease come back next year.”)  Thank you to Joan, Gail, Jack, Geri, Elizabeth, and Donna, as well as the staff from Oakridge and our Arlington County VCE office who helped make this event possible!

To view more photos, visit our Facebook page:

4 Tips to Control Clutter in Your Life

Clutter imageDo you have CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) in your home? VCE Agent Jennifer Abel visited Alexandria’s West End Wellness Center today to share with 40 participants how to reduce clutter in their lives.

Clutter can lead to mental anguish, physical hazards (potential for fires, tripping, etc.), and even health issues like allergies or headaches, according to the American Board of Behavioral Psychology. An issue of Mother Jones found that we spend 55 minutes a day looking for things we know we own but can’t find. We can’t even fit all of our belongings in our home; the demand for self-storage has skyrocketed in the last decade. Financial strain is also common, not just because you’re paying for extra storage, but because you incur late charges when you can’t find that bill that’s overdue, or you’re eating out more because it’s just easier than cleaning the kitchen.

So what should you do? Jennifer shared some tips we can all use at home:

1. Get real – Don’t assume you can clear up your clutter in one day. Take manageable steps by tackling one room at a time. Gather five containers: one for trash, one for recyclables, one for donations, one for items to sell, and a laundry basket for things you plan to keep that need to be returned to their proper homes. Then set a timer, and work solely on decluttering and filling these containers until that timer goes off.

2. Ask questions – When you pick up an item, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How long has it been since I used this?
  • Do I like it?
  • Does it work properly?  Is it broken?
  • Do I have more of this kind of thing?  How many do I need?
  • If I keep this, what will I get rid of to make room for it?
  • (For paper clutter, in particular) Can I locate this information somewhere else (probably on the internet) if I need it?
      3. Get FAT – No, we’re not suggesting you pack on the pounds.  To reduce paper clutter, professional organizer Barbara Hemphill suggests using the F-A-T system, where you pick up a piece of paper and decide immediately whether you will File it, Act on it, or Toss it.

4. Reduce what you bring in to your home – The most efficient way to reduce clutter is to not even bring it in your house.  Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Reduce the number of financial statements by using only one or two credit cards and consolidate multiple financial accounts to a single financial institution.
  • Call 888-5OPTOUT (567-8688) to stop receiving pre-approved credit card offers.
  • You can go to to get off specific catalog lists.
  • Whenever you sign up for anything where you are providing your address, phone number, or email address (how can you resist a drawing for a free car?!?), look for boxes that let you “opt out” of receiving mailings from that company or from others.
  • Contact the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to remove your name from mailing lists:

Finally, celebrate success. The best way to keep your good habits going is to acknowledge and enjoy your progress. (You’ll have plenty of time for this when you’re no longer sifting through enormous piles of clutter!) If you would like to arrange a Controlling Clutter class for a group in your area (in Arlington or Alexandria), please contact Jennifer Abel at or 703-228-6417.

Do you have any good tips to address clutter in your life? Please share your ideas!

A Special Visit

Written by Carrie Vergel de Dios

On Tuesday, June 4th Arlington’s VCE office was proud to welcome Dr. Edwin Jones, Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension who also serves as the Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Kirsten Buhls started the day off by demonstrating how the Master Gardener Help Desk answers community members’ gardening questions. Next the new Arlington and Alexandria 4-H agents, Samantha Nagurny and Reggie Morris talked about their plans for youth development work in the area. Following was a presentation given by Jennifer Abel and Wendy Peichel about recent achievements in local financial education programs and the many contributions of the Master Financial Education Volunteers. Three Energy Masters volunteers, Barbara Englehart, Nabilah Haque, and Colleen Morgan next talked about the exciting work that this group has been doing over the past two years and the two awards that they have recently won.  The chair and vice chair of the Arlington & Alexandria Extension Leadership Council, Mary Van Dyke and John Woodard, then talked with Dr. Jones about local priorities.

The visit ended with a wonderful lunch prepared by Katie Strong, Hareg Tecklu, Megan Mauer, and included the special help of several Master Food Volunteers: Nancy Broff, Caroline Comport, Sue Gonzalez, Catherine Hader, and Kate McCarthy. The delicious lunch consisted of Tuna Boats (pictured below), Green Salad with Cider Vinaigrette, and  Brown Rice and Orange Salad, with refreshments of Lemon Water and Black Tea as well as Fruit Salad for dessert.

 tuna boat